Sudan Archives Natural Brown Prom Queen Stones Throw
Natural Brown Prom Queen is Brittney Parks’ liberation. The Cincinnati-born, LA-based artist, better known as Sudan Archives, has always blurred the lines between the classical and modern; the delicate and brazen. Her 2019 debut, Athena, was an ethereal, concept-driven album that found her oscillating between worlds and folklore, bolstered by her traditional West African fiddle and crisp R&B production. But for her sophomore album, Parks strips away the abstraction and shows us the person beneath, free and unafraid.
“I’m not average,” she asserts on the title track’s intoxicating hook. Carried by a hypnotising bouzouki riff, rhythmic clapping and soothing strings, the song is frantically paced and captures Parks’ impressive range. Here, Parks traverses a million moods, processing everything from colourism and capitalism to the oversexualisation of Black women: “You know I make a method of something/ She’s a hoe, that’s assumptions/ I just wanna have my titties out.”
Taken as a whole, Natural Brown Prom Queen is just as scattershot as that track – and it’s all the better for it. On deconstructed R&B ballad Homesick (Gorgeous & Arrogant), she longs for a space where she feels held by her community. The pummelling trap bass and unfettered rap vocal of OMG BRITT presents a new side of Parks, fuelled by bravado and bite. ChevyS10 is then an abrupt, but welcome, stylistic gear-switch: hopeful synths bubble underneath layered vocals before erupting into a stomping, club-ready house beat.
Two spoken interludes, Is This Real? (Can You Hear Yourself?) and Do Your Thing, offer moments of meditative respite. Words of affirmation in the latter work to break negative thought patterns on the former: “Do you know what you be thinking? Is it even real?” Parks asks in a lightly reprimanding tone. Parks’ mother then makes an appearance to encourage listeners to “do your thing” over gospel piano. It’s a touching moment on an album that thrives on controlled chaos.
By drawing from so many themes and aesthetics, it’s clear that Natural Brown Prom Queen is a celebration: of creative freedom, of Black and brown women, of Park’s colourful inner world. “You think I’m pretty?/ I think you’re gorgeous,” she winks on Homesick (Gorgeous & Arrogant), cementing the record’s message of encouragement. It couldn’t have come at a better time.